Thursday, August 07, 2008

BPN 1182 Looking forward to a new (Reed) Elsevier

On Monday I wrote a posting on Reed Elsevier and I mentioned its forthcoming sale of Reed Elsevier Business division. This would make the slimmed down Reed Elsevier (or will it just be Elsevier again) a one-segment publishing company: scientific, technical and especially medical information (STM). Thinking about it I saw some similarities between the company histories of those two companies, which started out from The Netherlands and started there internationalisation and specialisation strategies in the eighties.

In the eighties The Dutch publishing company VNU started its internationalisation program. It bought publishing companies in Europe and the US and grew and grew. It sold its printing plants, followed by the sale of the newspapers and later on the book division, than bought and five years later sold its fast money maker, the directory division. In the meantime the strategy was to become a digital data company with more than 50 percent of revenues from databases. It started to specialise in marketing data company as those companies are less dependent on advertising revenues. And it collected a host of those companies with Nielsen as a pearl in the crown. From that point onwards it was no longer a publisher, but rather a data intelligence company. When the board wanted to buy the Kohi Noor diamond in the crown, IMS the shareholders, specifically venture capitalist started to revolt. In the end the board had to give up the acquisition and carve up the company into Nielsen and VNU Media (which sold most of its subsidiaries outside The Netherlands; it aims to become an digital publisher and is well on its way to become one).

For the former Elsevier the change into an STM company is the fourth step of the company to become a one-segment publisher. Elsevier began as a conglomerate of print plants and consumer, business and scientific publishers and over the years it sold off the division by division. The print plants were the first to go in the eighties. After that the newspapers in the consumer section had to go, followed by the consumer book publishers. The business division which got a big impulse when Elsevier merged with Reed, is now up for sale. So by the end of the year Reed Elsevier will be solely a STM publisher and might be re-named Elsevier or Elsevier Science again. Elsevier will be a full fledged science publisher with mighty databases like Science Direct. Of course the new company will be faced with all kind of new initiatives in the academic publishing world: open access and the public library of science.

The history of the two companies which were both Dutch by origin contains many similarities. They followed the same internationalisation policy and had the same strategy towards revenues from digital publishing (except Reed Elsevier and especially the scientific division was more aggressive than VNU). Now the new Reed Elsevier (or the future Elsevier or Elsevier Science) has also the intention to become a one-segment company, be it not an data intelligence company. Projecting into the future for the new Reed Elsevier (or the future Elsevier or Elsevier Science), the question can be posed, what the strategy will be of the new Reed Elsevier. Is the scientific publisher moving towards a break-up like VNU or will the company find fresh grounds in its one segment of publishing? Or will it also move out of publishing and more in the direction of running research organisations or other directions?

I wonder what the Elsevier Science people think about the new direction. Comments are welcome.

Blog Posting Number: 1182

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